Rory McIlroy

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

The winds were up at Austin Country Club on Friday, but the horns were down. All three former Texas players in the field failed to make the weekend matches at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Jhonattan Vegas and Dylan Frittelli had already been eliminated before Friday’s matches began. Jordan Spieth, the most successful professional player of the three, played in a win-and-advance match with Patrick Reed.

Spieth’s head-to-head bout with Reed drew the largest gallery of any match through the first three days of competition. Most of them supported Spieth, but they went home unhappy when Reed beat the fan favorite 2 & 1 with a clutch birdie putt from behind the green on the par-3 17th.

Spieth’s gone, but he’s not alone. Here are four other storylines from pool play at the Dell Match Play:

Defending champion Dustin Johnson strikes out

The No. 1 player in the world cruised to a victory in this event last year, never losing a match all week. This year, Johnson failed to win at all. He went 0-3-0 in a group with Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger.

It’ll be interesting to see how Johnson fares at the Masters in two weeks. Last year, Johnson withdrew from the Shell Houston Open to rest the week before playing Augusta National only to withdraw from the Masters as well after he fell down a flight of stairs and injured his back.

Big names fail to make the weekend

Many of the games biggest stars will be leaving Austin earlier than they anticipated. In addition to Johnson and Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm were all seeded in the top 10 but failed to make it to Saturday.

Phil Mickelson, who generated crowds that rivaled those of Spieth this week, is also without a Saturday tee time despite winning his match on Friday. For those not playing next weekend in Houston, this was a final tune-up for the Masters. Mickelson, however, will ride into H-Town having played better on days two and three in Austin than he did on Day 1.

“It feels good to come back and win these last two matches, even though I’m not advancing,” Mickelson said. “But it goes back to the first day. You need to be ready to play from Day 1, because the opportunity to be eliminated is there.”

Matt Kuchar fires an ace at No. 7

Last year, Hideto Tanihara hit a hole in one on No. 7 in the consolation round on Sunday. Plenty of players have had much worse fortunes attacking that pin this year. Many have left their tee shots short during all three days of play, making for a tough pitch out of the sand.

Not Matt Kuchar.

He took advice from his own Skechers commercial, in which he says, “I find the best place to position your drive is at the bottom of the cup.”

It took awhile for the ball to roll in from the center of the green, but Kuchar’s tee shot eventually dropped in the hole, causing a roar to shake the grounds at ACC.

“When I hit the ball, I knew it was a good line and had potential to be close for a good-looking birdie,” Kuchar said. “As it kept rolling, it kept getting closer and closer and finally it disappeared. And it was fun to be up at elevation and see the ball the entire way and see it disappear. That's always a special thing in the game of golf.”

Sweet 16 matchups and tee times

Both the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals will be played on Saturday. Here are the eight matches slated to get the day started on Day 4 of the Dell Match Play.

(16) Matt Kuchar vs. (32) Kevin Kisner

(58) Ian Poulter vs. (25) Louis Oosthuizen

(46) Cameron Smith vs. (12) Tyrrell Hatton

(13) Alex Noren vs. (19) Patrick Reed

(2) Justin Thomas vs. (50) Si Woo Kim

(45) Kyle Stanley vs. (7) Sergio Garcia

(18) Brian Harman vs. (35) Bubba Watson

(59) Charles Howell III vs. (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

A handful of family members and a few sporadic stragglers followed Jhonattan Vegas during his first match of this year’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday.

Thursday was different.

The gallery following Vegas’ match lined the ropes and spread four to five people deep at times. But most of those observers weren’t scurrying from hole to hole to get a glimpse of the former Texas Longhorn — they roared for Rory McIlroy instead.

As Vegas hiked from the third green to the fourth tee at Austin Country Club, some local supporters stayed true to their roots as they threw up their horns and bellowed “Hook ‘em!” in his direction.

Others simply let him walk by, their eyes fixed on the No. 7 golfer in the world. McIlroy held a 1-up advantage over Vegas at the time, and his fans encouraged him to extend it.

“Yeah, Rory!” boomed one of his followers.

“C’mon, ‘Rors’!” shouted another.

Vegas played his college golf at Texas from 2004-07 and graduated from the University with a degree in kinesiology, but McIlroy was clearly the crowd favorite.

“I don’t even know who Jhonattan Vegas is,” a voice from the gallery said after the players hit their tee shots on No. 4. “I only follow (Jordan) Spieth and McIlroy.”

Diehard Longhorn fans are surely fine with the former but maybe not with the latter. With both the odds and the crowd weighing against him, Vegas didn’t necessarily thrive in an underdog role. He fell 1 down early and dropped to 3 down when McIlroy made birdie on the 13th hole.

Still, Vegas had a chance to garner momentum at the 14th by sinking a 20-foot birdie, but his putt lipped out. Wednesday, fans screamed “Hook ‘em!” from the hospitality tent behind the 14th green. Thursday, they hollered “Alllright, Rory!” as last week’s champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational walked to the 15th tee with a chance to win the match. Vegas hung tough at 15, matching McIlroy’s par and pushing the match to the par-5 16th.

He wouldn’t let it end there, either.

McIlroy outdrove Vegas by 50 yards on the hole, but Vegas left himself in a better spot after the two played their second shots. McIlroy’s approach from less than 200 yards flared to the right while Vegas’ from 250 yards settled just short of the green. He hit a brilliant pitch from there to birdie the hole and send the match to the par-3 17th.

Vegas’ tee shot found the putting surface, 20 feet short of the pin. Once again, he failed to roll it in and was forced to rely on McIlroy to make bogey from just off the back of the green to push the match to the limit.

Not a chance.

The Northern Ireland native blew his chip shot six and a half feet past the hole, but he calmly knocked it in from there to earn a hard-fought 2 and 1 victory over Vegas. McIlroy struggled a day prior, losing 2 & 1 to Peter Uihlein. McIlroy didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole, but he was already 5 down at that point and needed a miracle to escape unscathed. He pushed, but it didn’t happen.

On Thursday, the former world No. 1 regained his form and won a match that was never truly in doubt. He said winning late in the day at Bay Hill on Sunday and then having to turn around and play more tournament golf in Austin on Wednesday took a toll on him. Unsurprisingly to himself, he regrouped a day later against Vegas.

“I'm never too far away (on) either side,” McIlroy said. “I'm never too far away from playing great. On the flip side, I'm never too far away from struggling. It's more of a mindset thing, and that's been the pattern of my career over the past ten years. I'm conscious of that — it's always great because I have the belief in myself that I'm able to flip it around very quickly.”

Unfortunately for Vegas, it’s officially too late to flip it around like McIlroy did. Vegas sits at the bottom of the group standings with half a point. Brian Harman, who halved with Vegas on Wednesday, leads with 1.5 points. McIlroy and Uihlein have one point apiece, which means Vegas has been eliminated.

Harman controls his own destiny to a weekend match, while a win for McIlroy either guarantees him that fortune or puts him in a playoff with Uihlein if Uihlein beats Vegas. Either way, McIlroy said he’s happy to be playing in a Friday match with high stakes — unlike last year.

“That’s the beauty of this group play,” McIlroy said. “Some years it works in your favor, like this year, and some years it doesn’t, like last. I played a match on Friday that was basically meaningless. It’s nice to still have something to play for tomorrow.”

Vegas, meanwhile, has nothing to play for but the Texas fans in his gallery who will flash their ‘hook ‘em’ hand signs and cheer him on — win, lose or draw.

Tiger getting busier while Rory still dealing with lawsuite

As professional golf waits for the season to gear up again, Tiger Woods eyes a return, while Rory McIlroy continues to settle his lawsuit with his management company. 

After pulling out of the PGA Championship due to back issues, Woods will return to the golf course to participate in his foundation’s tournament, the Hero World Challenge, on Dec. 4-7. 

According to Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, Tiger is still listening to his doctors.  The former great is having had back surgery on March 31, while also returning to the golf course in June, participating in four events.  However, he pulled out of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and a week later missed the cut on Aug. 8 at the PGA Championship. 

Woods began the year ranked highly, but fell to 17th because of his results and inactivity. 

Yet as Woods works to get back to course play, he announced on Tuesday that his first golf course, El Cardonal course at Diamente in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, opens on Dec. 16. 

He plans to open a course called Bluejack National, near Houston, but we will have to wait to see how his first course turns out.  Woods has tried to design courses in the Dubai desert, Asheville, North Carolina, and Mexico’s Baja Coast, but none of them came through. 

Now that we have looked at the former No. 1 player, what is Rory McIlroy, the current No. 1 player up to? 

McIlroy is skipping the European Master’s BMW Master’s at the end of October and the PGA Tour’s WGC-HSBC Champions during November to devote time to his lawsuit against former management company Horizon Sports.  Supposedly during mediation talks, he and Horizon Sports could not reach an agreement and a February 2015 court date has been set. 

Even with taking some time off, McIlroy will return to the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Nov. 20. 

However, this court date could affect his tournament schedule for 2015.  He is still listed to participate in the Euro Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in January. 

These tournaments will be beneficial for McIlroy as he prepares to complete golf’s career grand slam to win the Masters this year.         

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Alongside the rest of the golfing world, Jordan Spieth was forced to watch Bubba Watson sink putt after crucial putt en route to a final-round comeback that gave him his second green jacket in three years. Although Spieth could not maintain the pace set by Watson, the former Longhorn gave a debut that was notable in ways that cemented him in Masters history.

The 20-year-old Spieth had all of America buzzing as he entered the tournament’s final day tied atop the leaderboard at 5-under-par, within striking distance of passing Tiger Woods to become the youngest player to ever win the Masters. This prospect became even more attainable when he jumped out to a 2-stroke lead after the seventh hole.

Unfortunately, things momentarily unraveled for him on the eighth and ninth holes, as he bogeyed each while Watson sunk back-to-back birdie putts in a sudden 4-stroke swing. In the end, overcoming these blunders proved too tall a task for the Texas ex, as he finished 3 strokes behind Watson.

On the surface, many have pointed to Rory McIlroy’s 2011 collapse and argue Spieth’s performance mirrors it. McIlroy, who was 21 years old at the time, also could not maintain a multiple-stroke lead in the final round with a chance to become the second youngest player to win the green jacket.

The comparisons stop there, though. Spieth’s final round resembled nothing close to McIlroy’s breakdown three years ago, when the Northern Irishman choked away a four-shot lead by shooting an 80 over the final 18 holes, which equates to a score of 8 over par. When it was all said and done, he finished tied for 15th and 10 strokes off the leader.  

To this day, McIlroy’s performance is considered one of the biggest meltdowns in Masters history. Spieth, on the other hand, shot a 72 on Sunday, giving him an even score for the day. While it wasn’t enough to keep up with Watson, who clearly looked more confident as he made his late charge, his final round wasn’t a collapse. If anything, it was a testament to his mental fortitude.

After bogeying the last two holes on the front nine, Spieth could have easily folded under the pressure. Instead, he maintained his composure, finishing tied for second and finishing just one over par on the back nine.

Despite coming up short, Spieth showed resolve and maturity that far exceed his youth. At 20 years old, he missed his chance to surpass Tiger as the youngest Masters champion but has simultaneously emerged as a household name. With a sharp mind and the skill set to match it, Spieth will no doubt become a familiar face atop PGA Tour leaderboards for years to come.   

Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke holds the Claret Jug trophy in front of the scoreboard on the 18th green as he celebrates winning the British Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s golf course Sandwich, England, Sunday, July 17, 2011.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SANDWICH, England — Another major goes to Northern Ireland. The surprise was Darren Clarke’s name on the claret jug.

Ten years after he last contended in a major, no longer in the top 100 in the world, Clarke delivered his defining moment Sunday in the British Open when he held off brief challenges from Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to win golf’s
oldest championship.

The weather was so wild that heavy rain changed to sunshine, back and forth all afternoon, while the wind was relentless.

Clarke was a steady presence through it all.

A 20-foot eagle putt on the seventh hole gave him the lead for good, and he didn’t drop a shot until it no longer mattered. With bogeys on the last two holes, Clarke closed with an even-par 70 for a three-shot victory over the two Americans.

“Pretty amazing right now,” Clarke said, the claret jug at his side. “It’s been a dream since I’ve been a kid to win the Open, like any kid’s dream is, and I’m able to do it, which just feels incredible.”

Northern Ireland had gone 63 years without a major. Now it has three of the last six — Graeme McDowell in the U.S. Open last year at Pebble Beach, followed by Rory McIlroy at the U.S. Open in a record performance last month at Congressional, and now the 42-year-old Clarke.

“Northern Ireland...... Golf capital of the world!!” McIlroy tweeted as Clarke played the last hole.

“We’re blessed to have two fantastic players in Rory and GMac, and I’ve just come along, the only guy coming along behind them,” Clarke said. “We have fantastic golf courses, we have fantastic facilities, but to have three major champions from a little, small place in a short period of time, it’s just incredible.”

They are so close that a week after McIlroy won the U.S. Open, Clarke pulled out of a tournament in Germany so he could return to Northern Ireland and join the celebration.

They were always for someone else. Clarke had reason to believe his best celebrations were behind him. Surely, nothing could top playing a Ryder Cup on home soil in Ireland five years ago and leading Europe to victory just one month after his wife, Heather, died of cancer.

“In terms of what’s going through my heart, there’s obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she’d be very proud of me,” Clarke said. “She’s probably be saying, ‘I told you so.’”

Indeed, this was overdue.

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Clarke pulls in first open title after years of coming up short